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Monday, December 29, 2014

Phragmites Park - Centerport NY

With much of the hustle and bustle of the holidays all wrapped up, it was time for a walk today. The past few weeks I've been walking our lovely neighborhood, mostly at night so I could see the Christmas lights. 

Today I decided to re-visit Phragmites Park. First of all, Google Maps calls it "Phragmites Park" but the broken sign in the parking lot is spelled "Fragmites Park". The parking lot is small and quite rough. It's on the north side of 25A in Centerport. There is a second park to walk on the other side of the road, it's Betty Allen Twin Ponds Nature Park and one of my favorite little places to walk. Somehow I've been jaded and didn't care for the north side (Phragmites). My partner Andy feels differently, he's been here on his own so I thought I'd give it a second chance.

The terrain is easy, super flat with sand or mud. Be prepared, some spots are quite wet. I decided to take the trail along the left side of the park and work my way around clockwise. Phragmites park is pretty small so I've labeled it as Child friendly. The first thing that's a bit disconcerting is hearing the traffic wiz by but it only takes moments before it fades from hearing.

On cloudy days I'll walk at any time but in the winter I like to walk in the late afternoon as the shadows stretch and the last rays of sun kiss the earth. Instead of cropping this photo I left my shade in it, my kind of "selfie".

No more than a few minutes pass before the scenery starts to open up on the left side. This is the topside of Northport harbor, the further you walk the better the scenery gets (my mistake last time when I left after this one glimpse)

Paths lead down to the water's edge, I didn't follow this one as I did not have proper boots with me.

Winter walks will always feature moss, I can't resist taking photographs of the various patterns.

A huge difference with this park is the abundance of White Birch trees. Many of them litter the ground, they are not strong survivors with the recent hurricanes we've experienced. Oh my though, I think I found a new photography subject, the fungi were a delight to see.

I would love to take some children walking here, give them each a camera and see what captures their attention.

Sounds fill the air in this spot, the wind rustles through the grasses, and bird calls surround you.

The Northport smokestacks poke up in the distance, I like how they balance the red roof of one of the houses tucked in along the shoreline.

Finally a path dry enough for me to walk to the water's edge. It's a tiny beach, not larger than our driveway. Just perfect for a picnic for two.

In the center of the park is a clearing filled with Opuntia cactus. They grow naturally here, I can't say I care to grow them in my garden. Then again, I'm a bit prejudiced after having sat on my mother's cactus when I was a child.

This park does not allow dogs but there were plenty of dog prints in the mud. If you do take your dog there I'd keep it on a leash. These Opuntia have sharp thorns and the large population of water fowl would not like to be chased.

Nothing makes me happier than a tunnel of trees to slip through. I'm looking forward to doing this again once everything leafs out this spring.

The last photo was taken right before I returned to the parking lot. Lots of traffic noise again but you'd never know it from the picture. It was such a beautiful place.

If you want to visit Betty Allen Twin Ponds park at the same time leave your car in this lot. There's no place to park at the entrance across the street.

Have fun exploring!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Walt Whitman Trails - Toad Pond

 This week I had the pleasure of walking two of my favorite trails. They go by many names usually with "Whitman" as part of them. My family moved to South Huntington when I was 14, the claim to fame around here was the birth place of the poet Walt Whitman.

As a teenager I came here with friends and walked to the top of Jayne's hill. At 401 feet it's the highest point on Long Island. I was always interested in exploring the other trails but nervous to do so on my own. I brought my daughters here often and many times we walked down the trail marked Toad Pond but never found the pond. It wasn't until I walked here with the Long Island Greenbelt group that I learned how to read the markers and finally found the pond.

The Toad Pond trail is a great one for beginning hikers. It's a little over a mile long and the terrain is rough enough that kids would feel like they're really hiking in the woods. Take care, the paths are deeply rutted in places. I wear hiking boots here that support my ankles. 

To begin with, don't enter by the fence with the sign that say's "Toad Pond", that's why we never found the pond. Instead look forward to where the road ends. See the red fire hydrant?  Continue along that way under the pine tree down a short drive and into a larger clearing. 

In the large clearing is a dilapidated shack and a broken swing set, you'll see several trails leading off but you want to look for the second red fire hydrant and head that way. Walking in the fall and winter can be a little tricky, without the undergrowth, it's hard to distinguish where the trail is going. No fear though, I'm going to teach you a few tricks.

This is not a post with lots of beautiful photos but hopefully it offers important information. Trail markers are on the trees, this trail is well marked with white squares. Do you see them? That's where you enter.

If you are walking a new (to you) trail, you don't want to go too fast. You need to be alert, watch your feet and look forward for the next marker. Many times trails bisect other trails and you can easily end up in somebody's back yard instead of hiking the park. The beginning of this hike has some very steep slopes.

This part of Long Island is horse country, the trails are cut deeply in places and yes, shit happens. After this walk I promised myself to bring a plastic bag and a change of shoes for future drives home. There's nothing quite like the smell of the car heater blowing on manure covered boots. 

Single dots mark the forward parts of the trail but when you see double dots like this it's time to stop and look around. Double dots are telling you that the trail is making a turn. The higher dot tells you the direction you are to go, in this case you are making a right turn. 

This trail is well maintained, which is a very good thing. When you see an area like this with logs placed in the trail, you should walk on them. The ground here was like a bog, the logs are to keep your feet somewhat dry.

Off to your left you'll finally see Toad Pond and you'll understand why my daughters and I never found it. It's tiny! Well, in reality maybe 20 feet wide and a few hundred feet long. I've been there in the summer and found ducks in the pond, hopefully there's some toads too but this time it was empty. 

There's something about moss that just grabs my eye. I find the emerald green color riveting. Combined with the rich browns in the fallen leaves, moss is just breathtakingly beautiful.

My botany skills are pretty good but I was stumped by these little green plants. I don't know if they're a fern, they only grew near the boggy pond. If you know what they are, please drop me a line.

Again, more moss and the wonderful blue sky reflecting in the water. I wish I could have taken some prettier photos but trust me, it was a beautiful walk.

Leaving the pond the trail is hard to follow. If you don't see any white dots ahead stop. Look around, you can always back track a little or walk slowly ahead looking in all directions. Sure enough I saw another dot and off I went up a hill. After a few turns I arrived back out on the paved road near the park entrance. Turn right and walk down the road to return to your car.

This is the sign at the entrance to the park. It's at the top of the hill, the end of Reservoir Road which is off West Hills Road. The Toad Pond Trail is the smaller loop at the top of this map. I also hiked the larger loop, it's truly beautiful and I will share those photos with you later this week. If you are going to do both trails it's roughly 4 miles. Don't forget to bring water and a snack for a trail that long.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sweetbriar Nature Center

This morning I woke up determined to go on a new adventure. Mother nature tried her best to thwart my efforts, she was spitting freezing rain at me as I pulled out the driveway. My first destination was to be Caleb Smith Park in Smithtown but alas, they are closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. A quick peek at my map quest sent me off to the Sweetbriar Nature Center. 

December doesn't seem like the ideal month to visit a nature center but I hope these photos show you just how wrong that really is. The rain never let up but one photography tip I always share is that clouds and rain can make for excellent lighting.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is quite small, one could explore it from end to end in a few hours. That leaves plenty of time to stop and see the many sights such as the Birds of Prey and the Farm Animals.

I can't wait to go back in the spring and see these gardens. My gardening style has always been rustic country and I can tell these won't disappoint me.

A small herb bed shows how lovingly maintained these grounds are. In fact there's a nice large house with a very helpful staff inside and yes, that most welcome public restroom.

This grape arbor will be wonderful to walk down on a hot August day, of course that didn't stop me from walking it today.

Every where you turned there were places to sit and relax. A number of local schools visit the grounds but even then I imagine you'd have no problem finding a place to sit. 

The sensory garden is something I love and can't wait to see once it's warm again. It had 5 sections, Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound and Scent, each marked with a marker.

This was the first marker I found, I had to double check the other markers to be sure but yup, it's a tongue. I appreciated the whimsy.

Tucked into the Sound part of the sensory garden was a nice little tranquil seating area. Andy and I love to go for rides on his Harley Motorcycle with a picnic lunch packed in the saddlebag. A nice loaf of french bread, some cheese and a salami… yum! I already told him I can't wait to come back here with him. We don't have to wait for the spring, a light snow day would be good too.

If you look carefully, you can still find some blooms. I'll guess this is in the Aster family.

The park map showed a trail down to the Nissequogue river so of course I had to explore. At this point the rain started to come down steadily so I packed the camera away. That's ok because it gives me reason to go back and take more photos!

Some walks are hard and some are easy. This one was quite easy, a great starter location. I also added the link "Child friendly" because this is an awesome location to take your kids. Don't wait till spring, put on those hiking shoes and go now.


Monday, December 1, 2014

The Two Miler

We are lucky to live in the wonderful neighborhood of Centerport. To be exact, we live in a small beachfront  community known as "Huntington Beach Community Association", or HBCA for short.

Many of the streets here have steep hills, the homes on one side can be perched up high while the other side has homes set down low. Even walking at a sedate pace gives the legs an awesome workout.

When Andy and I first met two years ago we lived a few blocks apart from each other so most often we'd walk between our two homes. Andy had perfected a walk he called the "two miler" so that when he came home in the evening he could take his two large dogs for exercise. It wasn't long before I was joining in on the walks too. 

At first we start on our very flat street but no worries, there's always plenty to see like this divine planting just a few houses away. 

Not only am I a nature buff but I love gardening, I've written garden blogs for years. It amazes me how well the people in this area embrace the challenge of sloped properties. Our walk eventually takes us along the length of McKinley Terrace, a street truly cut into the hillside with water front homes on one side and water view homes perched up high on the other.

The beach itself is really a beach, just 3 blocks away from our cottage. Calie loves to visit there any chance she gets but it only happens in the winter as dogs are not permitted on the beach.

It's the one place around here she can run as fast as her legs will carry her…

There are spectacular views through the trees every where you look, taking a photo through the brush though can be a bit of a challenge.

This house is just outside the HBCA limit but only a few blocks away from here, what a beautiful location they have.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't take Calie on the two miler. If time allows, I'll drop her off home and continue on my own walkabout. It doesn't follow a specific path, I just let my feet take me where they will. 

It's just been recently that I've been taking my camera along on my walks, as you can see, there's always something beautiful to capture. 

When you walk through your neighborhood do you follow the same path each time or do you wander in a different direction each time?


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sunken Meadow

 Sunken Meadow State Park is on the North Shore of Long Island in Western Suffolk County. It's super easy to find, just take the Sunken Meadow Parkway north to the end and you're there.

 When I was a child my parents would drive us out to this beach a few times a year. Unlike the south shore ocean beaches of Long Island with soft sand and big waves, this north shore beach was rocky and the water was gentle. My dad told me he liked this beach because it reminded him of the beaches in Germany.

There is a well kept boardwalk along this beach that measures 3/4 of a mile from one end to the other. It's an excellent place to walk in off season times. The quarter miles are well marked if you like to keep track of your pace. Best of all, there's public restrooms open year round. A wonderful perk if you are going to walk for any length of time.

 I took my daughters to Sunken Meadow too when they were little, there was a simple playground that they could always visit after skipping stones on the beach. We had a most magical day there with my Mom one Indian summer day after her surgery.

In 2009 I was walking the park alone when I decided to explore away from the beach. Nothing pulls at your feet like a bridge, I had to see what was on the other side.

There was a large vacant campground filled with picnic tables but off to the side I saw a small walkway  going off into the trees and decided to keep exploring.

Have you ever been on a walk and suddenly discovered something you know you'll remember for the rest of your life? A moment in time that stays in your memory is like a newly unwrapped gift on Christmas morning. I heard a strange sound, lots of deep hooting and honking. The trees and undergrowth along the stream was too dense to see what was there until I found an opening.

There it was, this huge rock, bleached by thousands of bird droppings, covered with Cormorants. At that moment I didn't know what a cormorant was, I had to go home with my photos and research them.

The walkway crossed a short cement slab that had a drainage tunnel underneath it that lead to a secluded body of water and a very tame swan. It was such a lovely sight that I had to sit there for half an hour to take all that beauty in.

I continued to walk that area a few times a year, I rarely shared it with anybody, maybe my daughter Emily once. Two days after our area was ravished by Hurricane Sandy I decided to go see how the beach and woods fared.

My heart almost broke when I saw that the force of the storm waters had washed away the slab and tunnel and the current had cut a deep channel where there once was a place of peace.

No longer could you cross over to the other side, it was a huge change for the wildlife in that area and yet the photos show it was still beautiful.

The grasses still looked lovely, forgive me but sometimes I have fun playing with the photo features on my computer.

There's been a lot on my mind these past few weeks, Tuesday I needed a long walkabout, 5 mile minimum so Sunken Meadow was the ideal place to go. It's amazing what a long walk can do by cleaning out the clutter rattling around your brain.

I started off in a different direction this time. If you park at the eastern most lot and head out on the sand you will walk through a bird sanctuary. Even though the leaves have mostly fallen, this is a fabulous place to walk any time of year. You are still protected somewhat from the wind coming off the water.

Looking back at the spot where that cement slab used to be I was thrilled beyond belief. Andy and I had walked here last winter in the snow and I knew a bridge had been built to cover that new channel. In just one year it has weathered beautifully, looking like it's been there forever.

If you are looking for a great place to walk, whether by yourself or with family or friends, give Sunken Meadow a try. Bring along some extra layers, the winds can cut through you and may even a thermos with a hot drink or soup. Don't forget, let me know if you go!